Former workers play role in hiring

Editor's note: This is the second of a two-part series on Ski Corp.'s effort to recruit workers to bolster what becomes a thin staff at peak season.

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— While Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. has targeted the Australian student market to recruit employees, it hasn't neglected other markets in which to cull prospective workers.

Ski corp. employees have also attended job fairs at summer resorts including Yellowstone and Glacier national parks, Mackinac Island, Mich., and Newport and Block Island in Rhode Island.

In every case, an employee from the Human Resources Department was accompanied by another ski corp supervisor from one of the departments where the prospective employees would actually go to work. For example, Wendy Allshouse of the Human Resources Department was accompanied by executive chef Liz Wahl and Steamboat Grand food and beverage manager Steve Conners on trips to Glacier and Yellowstone. And Robertson was accompanied by kitchen manager Roy Bruneel on the Rhode Island trip. Lift Operations Director Deb Werner made the trip to Australia to answer the questions of applicants for lift operations jobs.

The presence of food and beverage or lift operations managers on the recruitment trips helps prospective workers get a better feel for the duties they'll be asked to perform, Robertson said.

Robertson also had other allies everywhere she went in Australia. The recruitment of students seeking J1 visas is facilitated by the nonprofit organization "Work Experience." In addition to pre-screening applicants, and arranging for the visas, Work Experience hired Australian young people it had previously placed at the ski area and they were on-hand at the job fairs.

When Robertson arrived in Sydney, she was greeted by former Steamboat employee Kylie Tonge, who was enthusiastically telling students about her experience here. In Brisbane, Kate McKinley was a former Steamboat employee working the job fair and in Melbourne, it was former lift operator Linda Gava.

Former employees from Australia give the ski corp. credibility at job fairs Down Under, but the real hook is the ski area's ability to guarantee housing, said Trish Sullivan, ski corp.'s director of human resources.

"Employee housing is one of the first questions we get asked about," Sullivan said. "Our ability to guarantee them housing is a big advantage. I went to Australia in 1999 and I recall that Copper was there. Copper is a great mountain, but they didn't have housing and that makes it tougher."

Ski corp. employees pay $250 a month to share a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment with three other people at Walton Pond. The rent is not deducted from ski corp. paychecks. The ski area doesn't want to be landlord to its own employees. Instead, Central Park Management plays that role.

Sullivan said Steamboat recruiters also tell Aussie students they won't have to worry about transportation costs here.

Australians who work for the ski area and live at Walton Pond ride a ski corp. shuttle to and from their jobs each day. And they're advised to make the most of the city's free-to-rider bus system to get around town.

Since the recruiting trip to Australia, the ski corp. has increased the starting wage for many of its entry level jobs. Robertson said when she offered lift operator jobs to Aussie students in August, she promised them a starting wage of $7.25. Recently, she's been e-mailing them: "G'day mate. Your pay has just been increased to $8 an hour."

Most of the Aussies were happy at the prospect of $7.25 an hour, Sullivan said.

Sullivan said the ski corp. uses a nonprofit organization, Mountain States Employers Profitability Council, to obtain yearly salary surveys for ski resorts.

The seasonal employees will have access to the same range of benefits all other seasonal employees receive, including health insurance.

Sullivan said Vail and Aspen pay higher starting wages than Steamboat, but the cost of living here is lower. Danielle Bajus of the Vail Resorts Human Resources Dept. said starting lift operators at her ski area make $9 an hour.

Aspen will pay starting lift operators $9.25 this year. Recruiting/Housing Director Melanie Richard of the Aspen Ski Corp. said her company seeks employees in a variety of countries, including Australia. This year, Aspen did not actively seek students on J1 visas, but it hopes to fill 180 H2Bs. Last year, the Aspen Ski Corp.'s allotment of H2Bs filled quickly, Richard said.

"We aren't trying to compete with Vail and Aspen as far as wages," are concerned, Sullivan said. "You have to take the cost of living, the ease of transportation into account." Things such as free ski lessons, comp passes, discounted food and other fringe benefits also go into the overall compensation package at Steamboat, Sullivan added.

Phil Street is an Australian who has been living and working in Steamboat for six years. He supervises the ski corp.'s shuttle vans during ski season and takes summers off to mountain bike.

Street said it's typical for young Australians to take up to a year off between high school and university studies to travel. Because Australia is a western nation surrounded by Asia, Street said young Aussies tend to head to the States, then on to Great Britain to travel through Europe.

Most of these young people come from middle-class families, and their travels are subsidized to varying degrees by their parents. Most don't really support themselves on the wages they make while in the U.S., Street said.

Anyone who watched the closing ceremonies of the Summer Olympics on television last week couldn't help but be affected by the "feel good" atmosphere of the 100,000 people in the crowd waving foam coolers over their head in time to the music of Australian pop musicians.

It will be a somewhat smaller celebration here Jan. 24, when up to 400 Australians finish up their jobs at the ski corp. so they can celebrate Australia Day probably drinking a Fosters out of a "tinnie" at the local pub.

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